Soliloquy 28


I am buying a new car. It is a necessary component in my life, what with being a suburbanite. The automobile is required for securing provisions. It is also necessary to my earning a living. I am obliged to commute fifty miles roundtrip every day I work. Also, unless I am so inclined as to lead a retiring life at home and there take my entertainment from the television or my bookcase, the car is my only means to the theater, or to the homes of distant friends. Buses, trolleys, or trains are few and far between.

I grew up in this community where my friends were all neighbours. During my childhood here, we could walk or pedal to each other's homes. Beyond the borders of Levittown, Pennsylvania the country still persisted with farms, dairies, and a few stables where you could hire a horse and explore the rural terrain. (Not that I did this. I feared horseback.) It could all be reached with a long walk or a short bike ride. Three decades later it is gone.

The last time I took a long walk in suburbia, I was stopped at an overpass across the highway by a sign forbidding pedestrians. My destination was a Starbucks, a few hundred yards away. I had never noticed the sign when driving past. My only alternative was to walk miles out of my way, adding hours to what should have been only ten more minutes. I ignored those signs.

The present neighbourhood remains a different world from my childhood, when the countryside was closer and the rural routes nearly deserted. Beyond the safe streets of the immediate community, the roadways are now thick with traffic and dangerous to a bicyclist. Serious bicyclists transport their bicycles on racks mounted to their cars, taking them to parks where trails have been laid out for their pleasure. I have long since given up bicycling.

The new car will be a black Honda Accord EX Coupe with leather interior, CD player, moonroof, electric windows and driver seat, ABS brakes, two airbags plus two more in the sides, and a five-speed manual. It is hard to find a manual. Most of the public demand automatics. That is why I must wait for the car to be manufactured and, having ordered it in February, do not take delivery before the end of April. It was while I was negotiating the price
of the car down, that I learned my salesman was a bicycle enthusiastic, so I offered him mine.

Digging through the mounds of debris that fill our two car garage, so much detritus that nowhere is the floor visible, I made my way to my old bicycle. O my, how it has suffered this disrespectful retirement. I didn't realize the sad shape to which I had allowed this poor bike to decay. Shame on me.

Forgotten emotions billowed inside upon seeing this old friend in such sad shape. Over thirty-five years ago my father made a gift of this bicycle to me. Pushing my heavy Schwinn twenty or thirty miles was a pain, so he treated me to a Raleigh International, a touring bike. British Racing Green. Reynolds 531 aluminum tubes. Brooks professional racing seat. Campagnolo components. Knock-off wheels. Bizarre silk tubeless tires, which, on an afternoon and almost ninety miles from home, went flat while I was racing down the side of a mountain near East Stroudsburg .

That bicycle was more than a machine to me. It had been a companion. There was the impression that all our trips were accomplished together, a mutual endeavour that required an almost telepathic symbiosis. It was alive for me and I loved it. Think of it as a cowboy and his horse. I felt fretful about leaving my bike out of sight in strange places. My bike was always at the ready whenever I tired of where I was. Seeing it upon my return, ready to
take me away, it was my constant agent of salvation, rescuing me from wherever I was and carrying me away to wherever I wanted to go. We went everywhere together.

Once, I was stopped by a couple of bullies. I'm not much of a fighter, more of a coward. They had me pinned, blocking my bike and me. I would not fight back, try as they might to goad me. I stood there and took the insults, the slaps and pokes. And then one of them spit on my bike. With no time for thought, it was all a flash, I was off the bike, kickstand down, had bodily lifted the dastard who spit on my bike and threw him several feet, head first against the brick wall of the local school. So little concern for myself, yet so quick and determined was I to protect my bike.

I could have seriously hurt the poor fellow, and maybe I did. He sat there at the foot of the wall, disoriented and swaying. I went over to help him, but the other kid stood in my way, yelling something about being his brother. I had to impress upon him that my concern now was only for his hurt brother and I wanted to see if he was okay. They left me alone, the one helping the injured other to stumble home. But I tell this story only to explain my attachment to my bike.

Here it was, many years later, and there was my poor friend, my bicycle, dilapidated and crippled, lying on its side on the garage floor. I was almost in tears. It wasn't entirely my fault. I had lent that bike to my son. He never loved it or cared for it as I did. Then it was also loaned to a friend of the family, whose indifference - well, I shouldn't be bitter. At any time I might have rescued my bike, restored my mechanical friend; it is all my fault. And it broke my heart to see the pitting on the chrome, places where the paint had worn to the primer, cobwebs. But the reason I was even looking for the bicycle is because I found someone to take it, someone who is willing to restore it and use it. He was someone who said he would derive pleasure in the repair and refinishing, someone who loved to ride. I feel I have found a good home for my old friend.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the twenty-eighth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.